SecDef Mattis promises North Korea an “effective and overwhelming” response should Pyongyang use nuclear weapons or decide to carry out "any attack on the United States, or our allies." Mattis is in the Pacific region to reassure allies in Tokyo and Seoul amid recent reports that the nuclear-capable North may soon try to launch an intercontinental-ballistic missile.
The purpose of the trip, in Mattis’s own words: “I wanted to make certain that Article Five of our mutual defence treaty is understood to be as real to us today as it was a year ago, five years ago and it will be a year and 10 years from now,” AFP writes.
His South Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, told reporters in Seoul this morning the two nations are still moving ahead with plans to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system—which Han made clear “is a defense system solely against North Korea's missile threat”—in Korea some time later this year.
For the record, Stars and Stripes reports: “The North conducted two underground nuclear tests and test-fired some two dozen missiles last year.” As well, they remind readers, “There are some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea and 50,000 in Japan.”
So, what are some of the White House paths forward on North Korea? “Former U.S. officials and other experts have said the United States essentially has two options when it comes to trying to curb North Korea's fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs—negotiate or take military action,” Reuters writes. “Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and South Korea, U.S. allies in close proximity to North Korea.” More here.
For what it’s worth: China issued a usual statement to the THAAD plans, affirming its “resolute opposition... which remains unchanged and will not change,” AP reports. “Such actions by the U.S. and ROK will jeopardize security and the strategic interests of regional countries, including China, and undermine the strategic balance in the region,” read the remarks from Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
ICYMI: What else is Mattis doing in the region? He heads to Japan later today. Meantime, he’ll be carrying his own damn bags, thank you very much. See that, via CBS News’ Mark Knoller on Wednesday, here.
Iran is “playing with fire,” President Trump warned in a tweet to his followers early this morning. The dig follows days of escalatory rhetoric from administration officials toward Iran, which drew sharp rebukes from the White House for a missile launch Sunday that could have violated an eight-year UN ban on developing ballistic missiles. Now Trump is eyeing new sanctions on Iran, Reuters reports, and they could come as soon as today.
“The new sanctions, which are being taken under existing executive orders covering terrorism and weapons of mass destruction...was formulated in a way that would not violate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers,” Reuters writes, citing sources with knowledge of the plans.
The sanctions threat comes hours after “Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would not yield to ‘useless’ U.S. threats from ‘an inexperienced person’ over its ballistic missile program.”
Adds Reuters: “The impact of the new sanctions will be more symbolic than practical, especially as the move does not affect the lifting of broader U.S. and international sanctions that took place under the nuclear deal. Also, few of the Iranian entities being targeted are likely to have U.S. assets that can be frozen, and U.S. companies, with few exceptions, are barred from doing business with Iran.”
However, there are broader sanctions in the works “aimed at hitting Iran’s pressure points, including its already restricted nuclear program, missile development and support of militant groups in the region.”
As well, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is reportedly working up its own new round of sanctions on Iran. But Chairman Bob Corker told Reuters that’s just in the early stages at this point. More here or from AP, here.
From Defense One
Don't Blame Trump for the Yemen Raid's Outcome // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: There's more to the story, from special operators who chafed at Obama administration micromanagement to the unexpectedly well-prepared enemies who lay in wait.
Global Business Brief: February 2 // Marcus Weisgerber: Mattis outlines defense-budget planning; Lockheed lets an F-35 appeal deadline pass; Talkin' tech with NATO; and more...
How to Survive a Russian Hack // Linda Kinstler, via The Atlantic: Lessons from Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
Trump's Travel Ban Will Not 'Help' ISIS Recruitment // The Atlantic’s Simon Cottee: The trope posits an overly simplistic understanding of jihadist radicalization, and demeans Muslims in general.
Pentagon Spells Out Details of Troops' New Retirement System // GovExec’s Eric Katz: The blended package goes into effect in 2018.
Six days of renewed fighting appear to be tapering off in Ukraine, though “the number of ceasefire violations remains far too high," a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told Reuters. On Thursday, artillery killed at least two civilians in rebel-held Donetsk, which is south of the government-held city of Avdiivka where the fight re-erupted on Sunday. More from AP, here.
Moscow is rooting for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, hoping—as Reuters writes—that they have enough ammo to fend off Kiev’s “reckless actions which are capable of undermining the Minsk peace process.”
Yemen latest: Just four days after the deadly joint U.S.-UAE special forces raid in south-central Yemen, al-Qaeda stormed into three new towns—but only held onto one of them due to demonstrations by protesters, AFP reports.
Whodunnit? For five straight days, someone’s warship has bombed AQ positions in “mountainous areas north of the [Yemeni] coastal town of Shakra,” Reuters reported Thursday, adding, “Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis quickly denied any U.S. involvement.”
A bit more on the region: “The al-Maraqisha mountains are a key al Qaeda stronghold in southern Yemen. Militants took refuge there last year after Yemeni government forces, backed by Arab coalition aircraft, drove them from the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar.” Story here.
Your weekend #LongRead: Trump’s call on Raqqa. The Washington Post reported Thursday evening on the latest in plans to retake Raqqa, Syria, from the Islamic State group. In short: "On Jan. 17, just three days before the transfer of power, Obama directed his national security adviser to hand over to the Trump team a paper detailing the plan to arm the Kurds, including talking points that President Trump could use to explain the move to Turkey’s president."
What happened next: “Trump’s national security team deemed it wholly insufficient and swiftly tossed it. To the incoming Trump administration, Obama’s approach was so incremental and risk-averse that it was almost certain to fail.”
The Trump team’s reax: “Trump officials said they were dismayed that there was no provision for coordinating operations with Russia and no clear political strategy for mollifying the Turks,” the Post reported. “Nor were there contingency plans if the Kurdish attack stalled.” Read the rest, here.
Duterte tells his troops: Get ready to fight communist rebels. Reuters: “The Philippine government will withdraw from a ceasefire with communist rebels on Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte said, as he ordered soldiers to prepare to fight and declared there would be no peace with the insurgents for a generation...The ceasefires called by both sides were always fragile because they were unilaterally declared, with no rules to follow...The conflict between the government and the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has raged since 1968 and killed more than 40,000 people.”
Said the ever-quotable Duterte: "I'm really very sorry. I tried my best but like in the song, my best was not good enough...There will be no peace in this land vis-à-vis the Communist Party. Let's resume the war." More here.
Elsewhere in the region, “Sending 2,500 Marines to Australia is taking a long time, and it's not Donald Trump's fault,” Marine Corps Times’ Jeff Schogol reported Thursday. The hold-up happened “amid negotiations between the two countries about who should pay to build the infrastructure for the extra Marines, said Andrew Shearer, a former Australian defense official...In addition to disagreements about money, some U.S. officials felt the cost-share arrangement should mirror arrangements with other allies, such as South Korea and Japan; while Australian officials objected to applying a ‘cookie cutter model’ to their country.” More here.
A $1.5 million military drone has gone missing somewhere in southern Arizona, AP reports from Fort Huachuca, where a Shadow drone “went missing after losing connection with the ground station. Massive efforts to find the missing drone have been unsuccessful and officials believe it disintegrated on impact somewhere in that general area.”
Lastly this week: SEALs love President Trump. Or at least the SEALs who were photographed sporting a Trump flag from the back of one of their convoy’s vehicles as it rolled through Kentucky last weekend. “The Navy has since confirmed that the convoy was from a Virginia Beach-based special warfare unit,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
“For some, military personnel publicly endorsing a political candidate exacerbates existing fears about American institutions falling prey to an administration that has been accused of having authoritarian impulses. For others, the flag was little more than a patriotic celebration highlighting the peaceful transfer of power.”
Said a spokeswoman for the Navy: “Yes, it was inappropriate. [And] It was unauthorized.” More here. Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you next week, after the Super Bowl!
NEXT STORY: Don’t Blame Trump for the Yemen Raid’s Outcome